A Brutal Page in American HistorySevasti KohilasLaura Wexler’s gripping saga of a brutal page in American history is a reminder and a warning to us that the events related are a part of our heritage and are not so distant as to be consigned to the history books though they occurred in 1946. The crime she writes about seems from a bygone era, yet it is a festering sore needing to be lanced by the people of Walton County, Georgia.All authors use a rhetoric strategy. It is how they sell their product, the work they create.
Unfortunately some writers are not very good at using rhetoric and it shows in their work and sales. Wexler, however, is adept in her writing and manages to use several distinct rhetoric strategies as well.Excellent research is a must for a writer to be considered believable. When the reader is rightly convinced that the author has done his or her homework, an acceptance of the story is more likely to occur. This is an appeal to authority, though not only for the fact that authority figures are quoted throughout her book, but Wexler makes herself the authority by virtue of her exhaustive research into this work. She sets the stage for events to come through a skillful, accurate, and chillingly told history of the attitudes prevalent in Georgia and the rest of the Deep South post World War II.
The political climate she describes and the court decisions of the era lead the reader to accept Wexler as being a voice of authority on this subject.Some examples she uses in her book showing appeal to authority are when she states the fact that the marked ballots were distributed to the blacks in an illegal effort to produce a widespread black voting in a bloc. Another example is when she states history and it’s long lasting affects on the locally people as she did in chapter 8 by describing the telegraph pole that certain white crowds flocked to in 1911 and still to the day of the book “not a negro in Monroe could be induced to go near.” This usage here shows clearly the separation and the power one race had over the other.Wexler shows her authority throughout the whole book, but one finally example to mention is towards the end of the book where Chris Culbreath states “We are here to take this red clay of Georgia that has been stained by your blood and mold it into a brick of brotherhood.
And then we shall take those bricks and build a nation where….every living thing is respected.” This quote states not only a powerful appeal to the reader for the cause Chris is trying to do, but also uses a vivid picture of language to express the feelings and emotions the black community had during this tragic event. By selecting this situation and this quote clearly shows her authority in knowing how the people of the area felt and what they planned to do for the future.To help her book progress smoothly Wexler uses foreshadowing, or the description of an event which will eventually lead to a point later in the work. Great authors have always used it to their advantage just as unskilled writers have managed to abuse it.
Shakespeare famously used it in Romeo and Juliet by allowing both the main characters to express a willingness to die for love early on. The audience is tipped that this is a portent of that which is to follow.In the very first sentence of the book Fire in a Canebrake the first character introduced Barnette Hester says “I don’t want any trouble.” This is clearly a use of foreshadowing as it gives the reader the thought that trouble is just around the corner. Wexler continues this use throughout her book as is viewed on the very next page where Barnette repeats himself a second time “I don’t want any trouble.” This is a clue that trouble is about to start and Barnette gets a knife blade shoved in his side. Afterwards, Roger Malcom states “Call me Mister Roger Malcom after this.” This in itself is another show of foreshadowing where it shows to the reader the conflict of what is to come and gives the reader just a glimpse of the anger that the blacks and whites have towards each other locally.
Very shortly after this incident Malcom is arrested and placed in jail, he tells a visitor, “I won’t get out of here alive.” This too is prophetic and an example of foreshadowing that continues throughout the rest of the book.Those readers who know the gist of the story are obviously not surprised with the outcome, just as theater goers are not shocked that Shakespeare’s two star crossed lovers die at the end of his play.
This fact does not mean that the device is useless or should not be used. Foreshadowing, even when blatantly obvious, can be effective. It often justifies the outcome and can give the reader an insight into character personality and mental state in the case of Roger Malcom in particular. Along with this the use of foreshadowing helps the reader follow along the story and if the reader knows what to look for, the clues are usually all there in the beginning of what will happen in the end. If the reader doesn’t see this upfront, then by the end of the story all the pieces fall into place and the reader walks away with a complete understanding of the story and does not feel like it was choppy, but well written.
Figurative language is another rhetorical strategy that is most commonly used by poets. It’s also referred to as figure of speech. Consider this, ‘The night has a thousand eyes.” We understand that this is not to be taken literally, but represents the stars.
Laura Wexler’s Fire in a Canebrake is titled figuratively. There is no fire. There is no canebrake. The name comes from the description of the sound which emanated from the murder scene, according to eye witnesses who heard the murder taking place.Wexler goes on to tell us that when a canebrake burns the sealed joints of the cane explode from the steam pressure created by the heat and make a sound like gunfire. The reverse is also true.
Gunfire, rapid and close by will sound like the explosion cane creates when burning in a fire. The account given by the people who heard the murders taking place said that it sounded like a fire in a canebrake. Wexler uses this as not only a great title for the book, but allows for a clear message to the reader. It is possible for the reader to recreate in his head the sounds that could be made by a mob of white men murdering four blacks in cold blood, firing some 60 rounds into them. It was an excellent choice for a title and chilling in its imagery.One specific uses of figurative language in the book happens in chapter 4 when Wexler talks about James Carmichael’s supporters as states that “As they saw it, Egene talmadge was obsolete, provincial, merely “a ghost’s voice hell-bent on halting the future.” This of course does not refer to someone who is able to stop time, but rather to a situation that will cause frustration and problems later in the book.
This use clearly shows that figurative language can have a dramatic affect on the reader and convey multiple meanings in fewer words.Another use of figurative language Wexler uses is when she talks about Mattie as she thinks back on over the years. “Mattie Louise remembered their years together as a serious of snapshots.” This line shows clearly how vivid the memories for Mattie were, but also how emotion felt she was about the funeral and everything that has been going on. Wexler uses this here to convey just how tragic an event Roger’s murder was to her.Wexler did not solve the old crime, nor did she bring the guilty to justice.
Yet, through her vivid narrative, she peeled the scab off an old wound and exposed it to the light of day. It is one more step on the road to equality. She did this through various uses of rhetoric, but more specifically the use of appeal to authority, foreshadowing, and figurative language.